Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Cold

Dude. This cold WILL NOT go away. First it's a sore throat. Then it's congestion. Then it's sinus pain. Then it's coughing. Then I lose my voice. Well, most of it. I'm screeching. Go away already, cold! You already ruined my mini-break, now don't ruin my wine class too! How will I smell or taste anything?

Since I've been under the weather but not entirely bedridden, I've managed to see three movies (Precious, An Education, Broken Embraces - I recommend them all!) in addition to loads of bad TV. I've also consumed more tea in the last week than I have all year. Why is it that cold drinks just don't cut it when you have a cold? Anyway, I decided that I had to make homemade chicken soup in my last ditch effort to feel better for my fabulous Monday back at work after a week off.

Since I was still missing actual chicken for my chicken soup, I roasted up another bird. (Had I posted this sooner it might have proved a useful way to use up your turkey leftovers.) Part of it was dinner, the soup. And I didn't really care for the pasta shapes that were lurking in my cupboard, so I went with some wild rice that I had kicking around. This is a very basic chicken soup, which is all I want when I'm not feeling well. Feel free to add a little of this or that according to your taste. I haven't sneezed in about 4 hours so I think I'm on the mend.

Chicken Soup with Wild Rice

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup wild rice
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
8 cups homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat the butter and oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and chicken, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and simmer until the rice is fully cooked, 15 - 20 minutes.

2. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the parsley and serve. Makes about 6 servings.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Feed a Cold?

Or is it starve a cold? I can never remember. In any event I went to bed last night with a sore throat that only got worse through the night, feeling super achy just to top it all off. Oh, and my annoying upstairs neighbor decided that midnight was the time to break out his nonexistent karaoke skills. I think the correct term is caterwauling. It did NOT make me feel any better. I have to work on enacting my perfect revenge...

This morning I still felt like crap so started downing cup after cup of hot tea and honey. It's amazing how much better that works than just drinking water. Hydration + sedation = tea. It helped, but was it going to be enough to keep whatever it was at bay? (H1N1? Maybe? But I've been using hand sanitizer after the gym and the subway!)

I thought about what I should try to eat and soup seemed the perfect choice. I almost had everything I needed to make a homemade chicken soup but soon realized that the only chicken I had was over a week old and I didn't need to add food poisoning to my list of illnesses. I did have everything to make a spicy curry soup (which first appeared in The Ski House Cookbook) so I got off the couch and went to work.

This soup cooks up really fast which is a benefit to using lentils over other beans. And since I was needing extra relief from whatever was ailing me, I added extra spices in hopes that it would somehow knock my so-called illness out of my head. I have to say, it really helped. I actually managed to shower to meet some friends at the movies and I'm feeling quite a bit better. Although I'm still drinking tea and taking vitamin C and zinc, I'm hopeful that, unlike after midterms in college, I will not be home bound and unable to get out of bed. I've got pies to bake. And eat!

Curried Red Lentil Soup

1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more)
2 celery ribs, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 - 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (depending on your preference)

1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a large pot with the broth and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the onion and cayenne. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 - 6 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, garlic, cumin, curry powder, and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vegetable mixture to the simmering lentils and cook for 25 - 30 minutes.

3. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately. Serves about 6.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Since I still had some pumpkin puree leftover from my pumpkin pasta sauce, I decided that a quick and easy way to use it up would be to make some pumpkin pancakes. They would also make a great breakfast to have the day after Thanksgiving when you wake up starving because you went to bed so full (just me?). And it's at least a little more interesting than screaming, "Breakfast!" and then handing a box of cereal to your house guests. Plus, you'll need the extra energy for Black Friday (and your relatives). I sprinkled a few walnuts on top but I think that chopped pecans would be a great addition to the batter, if you're a nut person. Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don't.

Pumpkin Pancakes

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for cooking
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pure maple syrup, for serving

1. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and spices. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, pumpkin, butter, egg, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just to combine. (The batter will be thick.)

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto the skillet for each pancake. Cook about 3 minutes per side. Add more butter to the pan as needed to cook the remaining pancakes. Serve with butter and warm maple syrup. Makes 8 to 10 medium pancakes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sage Advice

Hey, Whole Foods! Can you please tell your cashiers to NOT pack my fancy, fragile crackers in the bottom of my bag? Underneath the onions and celery and milk? That plastic clam shell isn't reinforced with titanium and I'd prefer whole crackers to a dusty pile of crumbs that have no better use than on top of a tuna casserole, and there's no way I'm making one of those. K? Thanks.

Now that that's over...Thanksgiving is upon us and I've been mulling over what I should make for the feast. I'm debating between making a classic pumpkin pie and an apple tart with a cheddar crumble topping...or something else entirely. If I don't make the pumpkin pie, then I'm left with a can of pumpkin puree. But that's not such a bad thing. There's a lot you can do with leftover pumpkin and it doesn't have to have anything to do with a baked good. A savory pasta sauce is a great solution for a quick autumnal dinner. You'll probably have all of the ingredients on hand for Thanksgiving anyway. And if you don't, just make sure to ask the cashier to put the canned pumpkin in the bottom of your bag when you check out.

Pumpkin Penne Pasta

1 tablespoon butter
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup solid packed pumpkin (about 1/2 of a 15-ounce can)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound dried pasta

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter, shallot, and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, broth, heavy cream, and 1 tablespoon of sage. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese.

3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to package directions. Drain well and add to the pumpkin sauce. Stir to thoroughly coat the pasta. Serve with the remaining sage and 1/4 cup of cheese sprinkled on top. Makes 8 appetizer or 4 entree sized servings.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Risotto Rosso

Part of the reason I like to make roast chicken (whether upside down or right side up) is because it gives me the ability to make a bunch of homemade stock with all of the leftover parts (probably not one of the abilities that you'll see featured on Heroes anytime soon). Having homemade broth on hand that I can use right away or freeze for later gives me the opportunity to make soups, stews, or risottos at the drop of a hat...or something.

After making this past weekend's roast bird, I knew that I wanted to use the stock right away to make a risotto. I wasn't necessarily thinking that risotto was the best choice for a Thanksgiving side dish, but then I realized that if I made a red wine or beet risotto it would be a vibrant red hue, perfect for the holidays. (AND I know the perfect recipe for the leftovers - stay tuned for that!)

I came across a beet risotto recipe in a recent Food & Wine that looked perfect for it's simplicity and limited ingredient list. I just made a few minor tweaks and...ta-dah! I had a bright red plate of goodness.

Homemade Chicken Stock

1 whole chicken carcass from a 3 - 4 pound chicken, plus the browned bits from the bottom of the roasting pan
1 large onion, cut in half
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 quarts cold water

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 60 minutes, skimming frequently.

2. Strain the stock into a large bowl, pressing on the solids. Let cool slightly and refrigerate. Remove the solidified fat from the stock before using.
Can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for several months.

Beet Risotto
(Adapted from Food & Wine/Grace Parisi)

7 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock (or low sodium canned chicken broth)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 large beets, peeled and shredded (yes, you will stain your hands)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups arborio rice
2 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese (about 8 ounces)

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer; cover and keep warm. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the oil. Add the onion and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until softened, 5 minutes. Add the shredded beets and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until the pan is dry, about 10 minutes. Spoon half of the beets into a small bowl and set aside.

2. Add the rice to the saucepan with the beets and onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the warm stock to the rice, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring until the stock is nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice is al dente and a thick sauce forms, about 25 minutes. Stir in the reserved cooked beets and the cheese. Cook, stirring, until heated through; add a few tablespoons of water if the risotto is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Spoon the risotto into bowls. Serves 8.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Got Roasterphobia?

I'm sorry. Clearly I watch too much TV, but there is something about that Perdue Roasterphobia intervention commercial that makes me laugh. I guess it's partly that it's true. Many people do fear roasting large cuts of meat or whole birds and also, whether or not you've ever participated in an actual intervention, there are enough reality shows out there that you might be familiar with the concept. It got me to thinking. With Thanksgiving approaching, why not practice roasting a smaller bird? There's really no difference between roasting a 3 pound chicken and a 14 pound turkey. You just use more butter.

I've roasted plenty of birds in my time, including that albatross, the Thanksgiving Day turkey (not an actual albatross). But, as you can see in the photos below, even I make mistakes. Two weekends ago I decided to roast a chicken because it was a little chilly outside and seemed like the perfect autumn dinner. I also wanted to make some homemade stock for future soups/risottos/stews/etc. Well, while trying to prep the bird and talk on the phone and make a side dish all at the same time, I ended up roasting the bird upside down! Now, if you're not planning to present it on a platter to a room full of guests, it doesn't matter. Some recipes have you roast a bird breast side down for at least half of the cooking time anyway, the theory being that the juices will collect in the breast meat, preventing it from drying out. Roasting a chicken upside down for the entire cooking process is fine, it just won't look all that pretty.

This past weekend I decide to give my roast chicken another go, mostly because I was a little embarrassed by my sad looking bird from the previous weekend. As you can see in photo 2, that bird looks much more familiar. But with regard to being pretty, I should have trussed the legs so that they're not all splayed out, looking like the bird is birthing a whole lemon (or maybe you like that look). Anyway, once again I wasn't presenting it to anyone, so I didn't care. Incidentally, both birds I purchased were kosher and tasted delicious. I was tempted by the cheaper conventional bird
($4 vs. $9 for the kosher!), but I really think you sacrifice flavor. Practice makes perfect!

1. Upside down bird

2. Right side up bird

Whole Roasted Chicken

One 3 1/2-pound chicken, preferably kosher or organic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole lemon, cut in half
2 rosemary sprigs

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pat the chicken dry. Use your hands to carefully loosen the skin from the chicken breasts, thighs, and drumsticks. Spread 3 tablespoons of the butter evenly over the meat under the skin. Rub the remaining butter all over the outside of the chicken.

2. Generously season the chicken all over, including the cavity, with salt and pepper, then stuff the lemon and rosemary into the cavity. Tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine, if desired. Place the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan. Roast the chicken for 50 - 60 minutes, until golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 165°. Transfer the chicken to a work surface and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Carve the chicken and serve. Serves 4.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Partially Organic Gratin

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go food shopping with a few friends (Jen, Lisa, Kristin) and a nutritionist from Food Trainers. In addition to regular nutritional counseling, whether for weight loss or sports training or living a gluten free life, they also offer "market foodtraining." Our trip to the grocery store was an example of a market field trip in which a nutritionist leads a small group through the store, making suggestions about when to buy organic, which fish contains the least amount of mercury, or simply which packaged foods are the most healthful (particularly helpful for those who don't cook!). You can read a more extensive summary by my friend, Jen, here.

I think that I generally make the 'right' choices when grocery shopping, so was pleased to discover that I recognized most of the information that was provided to us. But I did learn more about making better choices with regard to purchasing local (within 100 miles) and/or organic products. Although I do purchase some produce from my local farmers' market, I find that when I hit the actual grocery store, I tend to not pay attention to organic vs. conventional produce, unless it relates to the price. I did learn that by purchasing even some organic produce I can still reduce my overall pesticide ingestion. Also, if I make the effort to recognize the origin of produce, California vs. Chile or New York vs. Ohio, I can make a conscious choice to select produce that didn't have to travel as far to get to my grocery store.

With all of this information at my fingertips, I have been more aware of what I am buying, even purchasing organic milk about every other trip to the store (the Whole Foods 365 brand quart of milk is only $.99! vs. $3.69 for the organic choice - it's a tough choice!). And since I am still thinking about Thanksgiving side dish ideas that will not make you feel like a fat bastard, I perused the produce aisles today and ended up buying some Belgian Endive (from...Belguim, Ooops!) and some LOCAL ORGANIC potatoes to make a gratin that I read about in The New York Times.

Usually gratins are loaded with heavy cream and cheese (yes!) but this one eliminates the cream, though it still allows for the cheese so that you get the essence of a gratin. Umm...I actually added a bit more cheese. (Just a bit!) I think an extra 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan sprinkled on top is not going to make or break the calorie count. It's going to be the extra dollop of homemade whipped cream on top of your pie that does that.

Endive and Potato Gratin
(Adapted From Martha Rose Shulman)

1 pound Belgian endive (about 4 medium), quartered lengthwise
1 pound small red potatoes, quartered
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Oil a two-quart baking or gratin dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the endives. Blanch for 1 - 2 minutes, and then transfer to the ice water. Cool in the ice water, then drain completely and dry on paper towels. Cut crosswise into thirds and transfer to a large bowl.

2. Steam (or boil) the quartered potatoes for 10 - 15 minutes, until tender. Add to the bowl with the endives, along with the walnuts, parsley, thyme, walnut (or olive) oil and half of the Gruyère. Season generously with salt and pepper, and toss everything gently together. Turn into the prepared baking dish, scraping all of the contents of the bowl into the dish. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyère and Parmesan over the top.

3. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until the edges of the vegetables are browned and the gratin is sizzling. Remove from the heat and serve hot or warm. Serves four.

Advance preparation: You can prepare the ingredients several hours before baking. Toss them together in the bowl again before you turn them into the gratin dish.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slab or slice?

I think it might finally be time to acknowledge my teeny-tiny obsession with bacon. I realize that bacon overexposure started about two years ago when every Tom, Dick, and Harry jumped on the bacon bandwagon. But sometimes it's just too hard to kick the habit!

I was on board with bacon long before bacon jumped the shark with bacon chocolate bars, bacon explosions, bacon of the month clubs, and bacon vodka. But so what? Like popular TV shows that rely on desperate measures to stay relevant, I keep right on watching!

Since my recent recipes can't help but include bacon as an ingredient, I might as well share my favorite supermarket brand (and I've tasted alot!). To be clear, I am referring to bacon that doesn't require special ordering from some farm in Kentucky. There is a TON of awesome artisanal bacon, but you'd be surprised by what you can find right in your own neighborhood. I am partial to Wellshire Farms Dry Rubbed Center Cut Bacon. (All their uncured bacon is nitrate free!) I prefer a thicker sliced bacon and the center cut variety provides an extra delicious meatiness, yet it still crisps up (I don't like flabby bacon). Alternatively, if you know of a decent local butcher shop or deli, buy a chunk of slab bacon and slice it yourself to your preferred thickness (see the photos above). The point is, if you love bacon as I do, there is no reason to settle for anything but the best, or care if everyone else loves it too. There's plenty for everyone!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Keen What?

Recently a friend of mine asked me about alternative recipes to make for Thanksgiving that wouldn't leave you feeling like a "fat bastard" after. That got me to thinking: Is it the recipes that make you feel like a fat bastard or just how much of those recipes you shovel into your mouth? I'm thinking both, but I also think that that stuffed, sleepy feeling you feel after eating Thanksgiving dinner is more a result of a carb extravaganza overload (rolls, stuffing, mashed potatoes...) than from the trace amounts of trypotophan that you ingest from eating one or two slices of turkey. And then there's the wine. I mean, c'mon.

I came across this quinoa recipe in Food & Wine recently and actually thought that it could be a great alternative to stuffing. I've made quinoa before but always in a vegetarian context. Although I've always I liked it, I've felt that my recipes were lacking something. Hello! Just add bacon, Tina! Duh. Suddenly quinoa has taken on a whole new dimension for me. Not only is it high in protein, full of amino acids, magnesium, and iron, cooked with bacon it is delicious! And since quinoa is not a true grain (it's considered a pseudocereal more closely related to spinach or beets) and it's so healthy, you won't pass out from a fat bastard Thanksgiving coma. Well, maybe skip the appetizers just to be safe. And maybe the mashed potatoes and gravy. And the pecan pie...

Quinoa with Bacon and Almonds
(Adapted from Food & Wine)

1/3 cup sliced almonds
4 slices bacon (preferrably thick sliced), diced
1 small shallot (or garlic clove), minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups chicken stock
1 sage sprig
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the almonds and toast, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Let cool.

2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove half of the bacon and set aside.

3. Add the shallot (and/or garlic) to the remaining bacon in the saucepan and cook, until softened but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the quinoa, stock, and sage and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the stock has been absorbed, 15 - 20 minutes. Remove the quinoa from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Discard the sage and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Stir in the parsley, toasted almonds, and reserved cooked bacon. Add salt an pepper to taste. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brussels and Bacon

Do all Brussels sprouts come from Brussels? No. But apparently they were all the rage there back in the 1200's. And did you know that the lil' mini-cabbages grow on stalks? And that they are full of vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate? Yep. For some reason I was in the mood to roast up some Brussels sprouts last week, and searched high and low for them with no luck. (It's November already! Where were you?!?) Just a few days later they are all over the place. Of course. I found the stalk above at my local farmers' market and additional piles of single sprouts in my local supermarkets.

Thanksgiving is on the brain so I thought I'd share one of my all time favorite (super easy) side dishes. If you or your family think they don't like Brussels sprouts, think again. Roasting them is the key to the most fabulous results (in my humble opinion) and bacon is the secret weapon. What doesn't taste better with bacon? (You could certainly leave the bacon out...but why? WHY? OK. You veggie peeps would probably want to do that.)

Some outer leaves are likely to fall off and get all crispy. Not to fret. They are a yummy treat for the chef and anyone else fortunate enough to be standing nearby when they come out of the oven. But it's also the reason to stir everything once or twice while roasting. (I find that the vegetables on the edges of the pan tend to get more brown than what is in the center of the least in my oven). You might also want to consider making two sheet pans worth, because if you're anything like me, the bacon and Brussels sprouts will disappear before you even get around to serving them.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Bacon

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 - 6 slices bacon, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Toss all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring once midway through cooking, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and deep golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is There a Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie?

It seems like everyone has tried to perfect the tried and true Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe. I wrote about the Cook's Illustrated version here and have now attempted the Jacques Torres version reported on by The New York Times here and now also right here. Just as Cook's relied on a technique of stirring in melted butter to develop a deeper flavor, Jacques relies on the refrigerator, chilling his dough for a minimum of 24 hours. You can read his responses to reader questions here.

I decided to have a test to see if I could really detect a difference in the flavor of the doughs. My friend Kate kindly took on the Cook's recipe, which I know that she had made before, and I attempted the Jacques recipe. I have to admit that I ended up feeling slightly jinxed by it because: 1. I had to go to two different stores to find the flours, 2. In the middle of mixing the dough, I realized that I didn't have enough brown sugar so had to go out again for that, THEN 3. I realized that I didn't buy enough chocolate AFTER I had already mixed everything together. Duh. It's not like it was my first time baking and I did read the entire recipe before shopping. I guess that I just didn't comprehend what I was reading (I must have been watching Real Housewives reruns at the same time). Annoying!

Anyway, I forced a good dozen or so people to sample these cookies (not that I had to twist their arms!) and I ended up getting less feedback on the flavor of the cookie than on the texture. (People are very particular about how soft or crunchy or crisp they like their cookies to be!) Honestly I think that both recipes had a very similar flavor (by the way both Kate and I used the same chocolate so that particular ingredient was a constant). Some comments about the Jacques cookie (on the right in the above photo): "firmer and sweeter," "buttery, more flavorful, nice texture," "tastes richer, more like a traditional chocolate chip cookie." And about the Cook's cookie (on the left in the above photo), more people simply responded to the softer texture. Personally, I think they both taste great, but at the end of the day if I am going to bake cookies, I prefer the immediacy of the Cook's recipe vs. the 24-48 hour wait time for the Jacques recipe. And since I've had his actual cookies, I think I just prefer going to his shop to buy the real thing.

The Jacques Torres Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

(by way of The New York Times)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons, (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks, at least 60 percent cacao content (such as Ghirardelli 60% chips)
Sea salt

1. Sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined, about 10 seconds. Drop the chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. The dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop six 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto the baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with the remaining dough, or reserve the dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Serve warm with a cold glass of milk. Makes: 18 (5-inch) cookies.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Just Squash It

Lately people have been asking me about what to make for Thanksgiving. Since it's still a few weeks away, I was thinking that I would devote next week to talking about ideas for different sides and desserts. But let's face it. The Occasional Cook can't promise consistent blogging or daily cooking, so I'm just going to have to throw out ideas as they come to me (and when I'm not as some random restaurant or wine bar).

I recently came across a recipe for a squash puree that struck me as both uniquely autumnal and somewhat healthy (the latter being a questionable adjective when it comes to Thanksgiving and the inevitable carbo load). I think it would make a great snack to nibble on while everyone is arriving and your host is still dealing with last minute preparations. You could easily sip some bubbles, a Chardonnay, or a Pinot Noir and be perfectly happy with this appetizer.

Butternut Squash Dip
(Adapted from Recipes for Health)

2 - 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sesame tahini, stirred if the oil has separated out
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pomegranate seeds and extra virgin olive oil for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Lightly brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy membranes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay cut-side down. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until very soft. A knife should cut through it without resistance, and the skin should be wrinkled. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then peel and transfer to a food processor fitted with the steel blade (alternatively mash with a potato masher in a large bowl). Add the tahini, and puree until smooth and creamy.

2. Combine the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt on a cutting board and mash to a paste with the side of a chef's knife. Add to the food processor (or bowl) along with the lemon juice and cumin, and blend together (or stir together). Add additional salt to taste.

3. Serve the puree in a wide bowl or on a plate. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top, and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve with warm pita bread or pita chips. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.